Corpse pose, shavasana. Arms at sides, palms up. Legs sprawled to the edges of the mat. Back heavy and sinking into the hardwood. Stomach rising and falling. Space between teeth.
Shavasana is the most important and difficult pose in yoga. It isn’t about flexibility of the body, but about focus of the mind. I never quite get there. Usually I’m thinking about when it will be my turn for Jen, my instructor, to rub my neck with lavender lotion. But today my mind’s on something else. I’m thinking about why I’m here on this mat.
Over the past eight months, I’ve lost seventy-five pounds. I’m a different person at 205 than I was at 280, and it’s not just because my former students have a difficult time recognizing me. So often I hear and read about the how of weight loss*, but today I’m thinking about the why. Mine can be summed up in one word—mom.
My mother was the kind of woman who, when I didn’t answer my phone on a snowy commute to work, drove all the way up to my school to see if my Toyota Corolla was there. Then, once checking that it was safely in the parking lot, cleared off the snow from my car. I was twenty-seven, not seventeen. She loved me with a terrifying ferocity and worried about me more than anyone. She was absolutely unreal.
There were four years between her ovarian cancer diagnosis and her death. The year following her death was filled with strangled cries of “mom” to the heavens, with sweaty nightmares of her last days, with staying in bars too long so I wouldn’t have to go home alone. Grieving her death and existing in a world without her love is the hardest thing I’ve ever endured.
Throughout my mom’s illness and after she died, I insulated myself with fifty pounds of fortification. Desperate for softness and comfort, I tried to protect myself from the world that took her away from me. Armed with fast food and a pack of cigarettes, I lost. They were the only weapons I had, but they were destroying me.
They say that grief is just love with no place to go—that grief is just the price of love. And it’s with that currency that I began to construct my future. Too old to completely shut down, too young to not feel cheated, I knew I had to get better.
I poured my nightmares onto the floor in front of a stranger taking notes. I choked out lines of poetry trying to remember exactly how she used to hold her pen. I held my dad’s hand as we cleaned out her closet. I toasted 7&7s, her favorite drink, with my friends as we told Marianne stories into the night. I spent a year and a half working on my heart, but it wasn’t until I started thinking about being a mother that I started working on the rest of my body.
For a long time, I didn’t want to raise children who only knew my mother as a story. However, as the months and years went by, I realized that if I ever wanted to be a mother myself, I had to do something about it. I wanted my life and family to move forward.
Last November, I walked into my gynecologist’s office seeking help, with my heart beating rapidly to that rhythm that had been playing over and over for the past two years: muh-ther, muh-ther, muh-ther.
This woman, who had helped so many women give birth to healthy, beautiful babies, was going to tell me that I would never have the chance to be the kind of mother my mom was to me, never be able to have a place to focus all this love left inside me.
Instead, she told me I didn’t have to worry. Then she laid it out for me: lose ten pounds, stop smoking, then start trying. An easy enough ask for someone who didn’t know me or what the last two years brought me. That night I joined Weight Watchers and signed up for yoga.
A marriage of mind and body, yoga helped me gain control of both. With each warrior pose, I finally acquired the weapons I needed to battle a world without her. With each goddess pose, I prepared for my own campaign of motherhood. With each child’s pose, I found the rest from struggle I needed. Every time I returned to the mat, I learned to focus this grief, this love, towards creation, not destruction.
Over the next eight months, the weight sloughed off, seemingly happy to leave me. I found comfort in new ways: in the strength of my leg muscles, in the focus of my mind, in the energy of my early mornings, and in my full, unlabored breaths. I found comfort in journeying towards becoming a woman, a mother, of whom Marianne would be proud.
I place one hand on my stomach, one on my heart, and I follow the breath from my womb to my tongue. I don’t know if there is new life inside me, but I know that there is space for it to grow. We rise to a seated position, hands at heart center, and chant, voices blending Ohhhmmmmm, Mohhhmmmmm, Mommmmm.
*For those of you who can’t stand that I didn’t tell you how I lost the weight: Weight Watchers, yoga, walking (FitBit), and now running. Nothing novel, just a lot of discipline